Humans vs. the earth

I grew up–and am now a minister–in one of the many faith traditions that tries our best to follow the teachings of Jesus.

What that also means is that the Bible is a foundational book of scripture for me…one I see as a record of humanity’s attempts to understand the Divine.

In the first book (Genesis), there are two stories of creation. I’ve always loved the imagery in them…of a creative and creating God who calls that creation “good.”

But there’s also a portion of those stories that has bothered me. It comes after humans have been created in the image of the Divine…and is translated as “fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion…over every living thing.” Unfortunately, I believe that translation is a misunderstanding of what we are called to do with our earth–and it has impacted our decisions for many, many year…especially recently.

“Subdue”…common synonyms are to conquer, defeat, overpower, overcome. To “have dominion” in our day carries with it similar connotations.

Some contemporary translations instead call for humanity to have stewardship over the earth–and I think that’s more in line with what was intended. Stewardship calls for responsibility…for handling what we have wisely.

That’s hardly what we’ve done. Instead of working together with the earth, we have tended to be more like “humans vs. the earth”–and have made animals extinct…have destroyed environments…are in the process of continuing that destruction and changing our climate…and seem unwilling to go any other direction.

Do we not understand that if we destroy our environment, we destroy ourselves? I hope and pray it’s not too late for us to stop and reconsider our relationship to the earth–so that it changes from “humans vs. the earth” to “humans in partnership with the earth”…as I believe was intended.

 

 

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Who gets to make the decision?

I tend to try to not wade into political matters in my blog (at least, not very deeply), but this post is definitely going to get deep. I know some of you will not be happy that on a blog identified as a “preacher kid’s weblog” I’m getting into what many see as a political issue rather than a religious one–but I believe it fits both categories.

And so what is that issue? It’s one that’s been a hot-button issue for at least 20 years…and seems to be getting even hotter today: abortion.

Let me state up front that I am supportive of a woman’s right to a medically safe abortion–although I would prefer that abortion became more rare.

Over the years since Roe v. Wade legalized that right, there have been movements that have chipped away at it, making it more difficult…more expensive…more humiliating for women who have chosen to go that route. In some cases there is only one clinic in a state where women can go. In other cases, women are required to go through a waiting period before they can have the procedure, creating both additional expense and frustration. And in yet other cases, women have been required to go to court before they could terminate the pregnancy.

One of the frustrations for me as I have watched this process is that those on both sides of the issue have tended to act as though the decision to have an abortion is an easy one…and that it is a black-and-white issue. No, it isn’t.

There are many factors that play into a woman’s decision to have an abortion. Criminalizing it or making it less available aren’t going to bring the rates down. If we really want to make abortion more rare, we would be better off by:

  • ensuring better access to birth control for women
  • providing comprehensive sexuality education that includes medically accurate information about abstinence and contraception
  • requiring insurance coverage of family planning services
  • providing access to emergency contraception
  • providing access to education / training that will help young women have the means to provide for themselves
  • funding programs that curb domestic violence and sexual abuse
  • encouraging / requiring parental leave
  • providing and funding services for disabled children
  • making child care a priority

Until we are willing to look at better ways to lower the abortion rate, the decision to have one should, in my opinion, be dealt with by the woman, her significant other (when appropriate), her doctor, and (if desired) her spiritual advisor. Not those who don’t know what’s led to that decision…but who would easily condemn her as a murderer for it.

Why?

It seems like almost every time I turn around, I see a news story that someone who has been virulently opposed to the LGBTQ community has (1) acknowledged that they are indeed members of that community and/or (2) been charged or found guilty of charges that would undercut the “purity” of their opposition.

And I can’t help but wonder why.

What are they so afraid of?

I mean, I can understand opposition to understanding the diversity of human sexuality and gender if you have spent your whole life being taught that there are only two genders and only one permissible combination of sexual contact.

But what is it that causes some individuals to lash out so much? Is it fear of having to let go of something that has been a foundational understanding? When we do that, it does feel like the ground shifts underneath us…and we have to revisit and re-evaluate our previous understandings.

Or is it sometimes a fear of being true to themselves? of acknowledging that perhaps they are part of the community they seem to despise so much…that is so hated and marginalized?

I don’t know. Only they do.

But the one thought that comes to mind is this statement by Jesus in the Gospel of John (8:32). Yes, it’s in response to some who didn’t believe who he was…but it’s a true and important statement as we try to live our lives authentically: “…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 

Only when we are true to ourselves can we live a life of joy.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

These last few days have seen a lot of discussion and commentary over a viral video of a confrontation at the Lincoln Memorial. What was initially thought to be a simple situation has–in some ways–been shown to be more complex.

But there is one element of the situation that I think needs to be discussed–the concept of respect. One definition of respect is due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others…and that seems to have been missing all the way around.

Yes, there is the right of free expression–and that seems to have been on full display in the initial interactions between the small group of Hebrew Israelites. Then entered Nathan Phillips, an elder of the Omaha tribe.

There are many videos of the situation, from several different perspectives. There have been many responses and analyses of what happened. What was in the minds of the individuals involved? The two individuals involved have each given statements sharing their perspectives. They disagree, but that is not unexpected, given that each of us involved in particular situations respond according to our backgrounds and expectations.

But what if respect had been at the foundation of the interactions? How might things have been different?

Well, obviously, first of all the Hebrew Israelites and the students wouldn’t have been throwing taunts at each other, raising the level of tensions!

When Mr. Phillips approached–from his perspective seeking to defuse the situation–he still might have been met with confusion from a group of teenagers who weren’t sure what he was doing. But respect would have suggested stepping back and trying to understand–not meeting him with actions that have been identified as offensive by many Native Americans.

Respect would have suggested that the chaperone(s) (who were meeting the students there for a bus ride back) would have stepped in and told the students to knock it off…to do their part in defusing the situation.

For all of us, respect demands that we take a deep breath. We are a community…a world…filled with diversity. For us to get along, to ensure that we can continue to live on this world in safety, requires that we be willing to have a regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others. In other words, to follow a simple commandment that is found in the sacred writings of all the major religions:

golden rule poster

 

I have a dream…

In the United States, today is the day set apart for celebrating and honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s a good time to look at ourselves…to see where we’ve been (both as a country and individually)…to see where we are (again, both as a country and individually)…and to consider where we want to be (as a country and individually).

I remember the days of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s…

  • the hatred that was apparent on faces of individuals who did not want people of any other color than white sitting at lunch counters…
  • the taunting and harassing of young people–some young elementary students–who wanted access to the same quality of education as their white peers…
  • the awful pictures of peaceful protestors being sprayed with fire hoses and attacked by police dogs…
  • the murders of individuals who were helping others with their rights to vote…
  • the murders of innocent children in a church…

Looking back, I can think that we’ve come a long ways. And yet…today I see so many situations that make us less than our best vision…

  • far too many African-American individuals being killed in their interactions with police with no apparent consequences…
  • demonization of individuals fleeing oppression and violence…
  • language from the top echelons of our government that promotes separation and division among races and ethnicities…
  • marches that promote white superiority…
  • mass shootings..
  • an unwillingness to listen to scientists and their concerns for our planet…
  • a brand of “Christianity” that insists on its superiority over any other understanding of the Divine…

You probably have your own list of concerns.

And yet…I also see hope…

  • in an increasing diversity of representation (at least in some areas)…
  • in young people who are standing up and saying “enough is enough”…
  • a growing community of people from a variety of backgrounds who are finding common ground even as they acknowledge their diversity…

And so, on this day when we remember a man who said, “I have a dream…” and who called us all to join in making that dream a reality, I also want to remember another challenge:

mlk quote on darkness and light

If I were one of “the tired, the poor…”

I hear a lot of statements to the effect that people who want to emigrate to the US should do it legally…that there is no excuse for illegal entry. In a perfect world, I agree. But unfortunately, our world is not perfect.

Compared to many in the world, I live a life of privilege. I have had the privilege of a good education and been able to work at jobs that pay decently. I have a home, clothing, enough for my family to eat (and to spare), access to medical care…and I do not spend my days worrying about my children or grandchildren being targeted by gangs as drug runners or sex slaves—or dying from malnutrition. I do not worry about my home being shot up or about bombs going off in my street. I can drive around my town safely without worrying about IEDs or car bombs or random shootings (mostly, anyway).

I cannot imagine living in a place where that is not true.

I honestly do not know what I would do if I lived in a place with the opposite of those conditions. If it were just me, that would be one thing. But if there were any other option that I could see for my children and grandchildren, I think I would take it—legal or otherwise.

And for many of the world’s people, there is not a legal option. Either because of lack of education, lack of money, lack of access to government offices—or the corruption of those offices… If all I had was my feet—and the hope that there must be a better world somewhere—I think I would gather up what I could and start walking.

Yes, I think our immigration system needs to be overhauled. Yes, I think we need to do what we can to help stabilize governments where many of these folks are coming from.

But at the same time, I would hope that we would have some empathy for those who are trying to find safety and a better future for their children and grandchildren—and I would hope that we would read again…and be willing to live out…the poem by Emma Lazarus that is inscribed on the Statue of Liberty:Statue of Liberty seen from the Circle Line ferry, Manhattan, New York

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
MOTHER OF EXILES. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Advent musings

As we are preparing to go into the season of Advent…and beginning our preparations for Christmas…I got to thinking about what we know about Jesus.

He was born into an occupied country—a country wracked by violence where one never knew from one day to the next whether they would be alive or dead…and where safety for the occupied community was really a mirage.

Besides the occupiers, his country was also torn by violence between competing groups who had very different opinions on how to deal with the governing authorities. Some wanted to just get along. Others wanted the invaders out—and were willing to use every method they knew to get them gone…along with those who had collaborated with them.

There was a large gap between the “haves” and the “have nots.” Some were secure in knowing they had a place to live, clothes to wear, and enough food to eat. Many, many more weren’t sure where their next meal would be coming from.

At various times, people fled their country. Some were running from the violence that surrounded them. Others were hoping somehow to find a better life. Jesus’ own family fled the violence and became refugees in another country.

As an adult, back in his own country, Jesus continued to face challenges. Violence, corruption in government and religion, fear, hatred of the other…

And yet…he did otherwise. He ate with corrupt religious leaders. He healed family members of the oppressors. He visited with those who were “other.” He talked about love…and challenged his followers to truly follow his example of all-embracing love, hope, and healing.

So this year…while I love my traditional and beautiful nativity scenes, I also want to look at ones that make me uncomfortable…that remind me that the One I will be celebrating did not live an easy life–and calls me to make sometimes difficult choices. I want to be reminded that when I look into the faces of “the other,” I am called to see the face of Jesus.

Advent is a time of preparation for the celebration of when Jesus came 2000 years ago…and a time of preparation for when Jesus will come again…and I want to be reminded again and again of what he said–that when I bring ministry (food, water, shelter, affirmation) to any of God’s children, I am doing it to and for him.

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